14 Teams in 14 Days: Illinois Fighting Illini
Tim Beckman's second year on the job was an improvement over his 2012 campaign, though that wasn't tough to top.
The Illini would go winless in B1G Ten play in 2012 and win just two games overall. Defensively, the team was a mess, allowing at least 30 points to the opposition in all but four games (two coming against Western Michigan and Charleston Southern).
Things could only get better after 2012.
In 2013 Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up a four year stay in Campaign by throwing a career high 21TD passes, leaving school as the Illini's all-time leader in total yardage.
The task of replacing a four-year starter at QB likely falls on incoming Oklahoma State transfer, Wes Lunt.
Lunt brings a high pedigree with him. As a true froshman he surprisingly won the starting QB job in Stillwater in 2012 before losing the job after suffering a knee injury.
Then theres the praise his coaches have heaped upon him, drawing comparisons to Tom Brady and former Stanford and Buffalo Bills QB, Trent Edwards. Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit coached Edwards while at Stanford. "I had Trent Edwards at Stanford. I think this kid is a bit ahead of where Trent was when I was there."
While Lunt has the tools to be one of the best QBs in the B1G Ten, he can't do it without any help. The Illini lost their top four WRs from 2013 and are going to be expecting a lot out of Martize Barr and TE Jon Davis.
The offensive line underwent a massive overhaul in 2012 and continues to be a work in progress, not helping matters is the fact that the group has its third coach since the final game of the 2012 season. After a transition last year they do return three starters that boast 96 career starts.
In the backfield, Rashard Mendenhall and Mikel Leshoure are both long gone. Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson will split the load in the backfiend in 2014. Young had high expectations when he arrived as part of Ron Zook's 2010 Class. Ferguson meanwhile is a blazing speedster with good hands that figures to factor into the passing game.
2013 was a real struggle on the defensive side of the ball for Illinois. They finished the season ranked 113th in total yards allowed (482) and 106th in points per game (35.4)
Whitney Mercilus and Akeem Spence were standout defenders for Illinois who both left for the NFL in back-to-back years. Since their departure the Illini's defense has struggled to keep up. This year the Illini are tasked with replacing Tim Kynard, Jonathan Brown and Houston Bates.
The defensive backfield was the real disaster. In 2013 they were tasked with replacing both starting CBs and four safeties. Adding to the difficulty was moving Steve Hull from DB to WR. The good news? They do return Earnest Thomas and figure to be more experienced in 2014.
|11/1||@ Ohio State|
While Ohio State and Wisconsin are on the schedule, Illinois does dodge Michigan and Michigan State. Nonconference games against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State are all winnable games. They won't finish near the top of the B1G Ten but 3-5 in conference play is achievable.
The defense can only get better and the addition of Wes Lunt should make this offense much improved. While you won't expect them to get past Wisconsin and Ohio State and road tests with Washington, Nebraska and Northwestern are tough if Illinois can get through the remaining six games (all winable) they're once again bowl eligible.